The COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated a rapid shift to online learning, making the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework increasingly relevant for creating meaningful and effective online learning experiences. However, the impact of CoI presences (i.e., teaching, social, and cognitive presence) on students' learning outcomes has been inconsistent in the literature, and a recent meta-analysis has identified a publication bias in this relationship, suggesting the need for a further investigation. This study aimed to enhance our understanding of how the CoI presences influence students' actual learning outcomes by incorporating learner empowerment as an essential learner characteristic. This study was conducted in two undergraduate courses that were abruptly shifted online due to the COVID-19 lockdown. Structural equation modeling was used to examine the relationship between the CoI presences, learner empowerment, and actual learning outcomes. The results show that learner empowerment has a direct and positive impact on students' actual learning outcomes, and partially mediates the relationship between CoI presences and learning outcomes. The findings highlight the significant mediating role of learner empowerment within the CoI framework and offer valuable insights into the design of productive online learning communities.
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